An interview with the 12th director-general of the United Nations Office at Geneva, upon the opening of the first direct Geneva–Addis Ababa air route.
In addition to your title, what should our readers know about the United Nations office in Geneva and the work that you do?
Geneva is the operational hub of the United Nations and its partners, all focusing on essential global issues. Peace, disarmament, health, labor, human rights, humanitarian action, disaster response, intellectual property, trade, development, science and technology, research and training. The work being done in these fields by the UN family and many other actors in Geneva has an impact on the daily lives of every person around the world.
How does your office interface with the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa, located in Addis Ababa?
There are significant connections between the UN family in Geneva and Addis Ababa. I would simply highlight the linkages between the Addis-based UN Economic Commission for Africa and its European counterpart based in Geneva. I would also mention the technical cooperation activities carried out by Geneva actors with their African counterparts on issues ranging from trade, labor and climate change, to health, refugees and migration. Finally, there are also important connections with the African Union which — as a regional organization headquartered in Addis Ababa — plays a critical role in bridging the local, national, regional and international levels of the multilateral system.
How do you feel about the launch of Ethiopian’s new flight to Geneva, which will be the first regular sub-Saharan African service for the city?
African countries play a vital role in the efforts being made here in Geneva to find solutions to today’s problems. In the era of globalization, our collective success, specifically with regard to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, will largely depend on the success of the African continent. The 55 African Union Member States are key partners for the UN, as evidenced in the Framework for the Implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda, signed by the UN and the African Union earlier this year. So, Geneva needs to be strongly connected to Africa; we need to encourage mutual comprehension and dialogue — and air travel has an important role to play in bringing us closer together.
Geneva is known as a major diplomatic capital. How do you feel that this route could help to further the work of international cooperation?
Geneva is indeed one of the oldest capitals of multilateralism. Next year we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the League of Nations. Diplomacy has been in the DNA of the city since at least 1863, when Henry Dunant created the Committee of the Red Cross. Diplomats, representatives of international and non-governmental organizations, academia and the private sector come in great numbers to Geneva for their work, including for the more than 12,000 meetings organized at the United Nations. Geneva is also a key logistical platform for international cooperation. Having a direct route to Addis Ababa — one of the two main African centers of the United Nations, an important platform for the organization of humanitarian and development aid, and the gateway to the African continent — will facilitate both international cooperation and the participation of African representatives in the important activities taking place in Geneva.
The United Nations highlighted the contributions of air transport in underpinning the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. How do you see the contribution of carriers like Ethiopian Airlines helping to achieve these goals?
Air transport plays an important role in the world economy as a catalyst for growth, by building connectivity to increase trade, tourism, personal opportunities and mobility. In turn, these economic benefits have a direct influence on people’s lives and on reaching the Sustainable Development Goals which compose the Agenda 2030. In parallel, the air transport sector is actively engaging in strategies to reduce the Co2 emissions of aircrafts so that their negative effects on the environment (Goal #13) can be mitigated. In the spirit of an integrated approach, it really is important that the air transport sector looks at its contributions to Agenda 2030 in a systemic way. This means that in addition to their direct influence on development outcomes, carriers can play a unique role in raising awareness about the Goals because of the volumes of people they transport. We need every single person on this planet to know about Agenda 2030 and feel personally responsible for its implementation — and an airline such as Ethiopian can give us a decisive contribution toward this objective.
In January of this year, the African Union launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), to create a unified air transport market in Africa. How will the United Nations cooperate with Africa to realize the full implementation of the initiative?
Collaboration with the dynamic African continent is a priority for the United Nations and our secretary-general. And indeed, just four months after taking office, he signed the first United Nations-African Union Framework Agreement to strengthen and develop that cooperation. The UN system works closely with the African Union. Our two respective agendas — the Agenda 2030 of the UN and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 — are mutually reinforcing. In this framework, we applaud the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market initiative, which is the first of the 12 African Union’s Agenda 2063 flagship projects to be developed. It prepares the ground for more initiatives promoting free trade and the free movement of people, showing the power of multilateralism in a world which, unfortunately, is increasingly turned toward isolationism and closed borders. I am convinced that cooperation in the sky is an excellent way to foster cooperation on earth!